Division of pastures with agrosilvopastoral strips. La Esperanza farm, Albania, Caquetá. Photo: Neil Palmer


By: invited CIPAV Team partners in the Sustainable Amazonian Landscapes project
Antonio Solarte, Catalina Zapata and Mayerly Rivera | Feb 15, 2018

The main objective of the Sustainable Amazonian Landscapes project (SAL) is to provide national environmental authorities and local farmers in Colombia and Peru science-based evidence that improves their capacity to mitigate and adapt to climate change, while improving the environmental services and socioeconomic benefits for the farmers.

What is the context?

Caquetá is recognized as “the golden door” of the Colombian Amazon region, since it concentrates a great richness of endemic species and high biological diversity, in areas as important as the transition zone between the Andes and the Amazon region, where the main rivers that feed the Amazon basin rise, and which serves as the source of supplies for the major population centers of the region. Nevertheless, these enormous environmental benefits are being undermined by a strong anti-tropic intervention through processes of deforestation for the establishment of agricultural activities, mainly extensive livestock raising, to such an extent that Caquetá, in the first half of 2017, had the highest rates of change of land use, becoming the Colombian department with the highest number of early deforestation alerts.

Deforested landscape and extensive livestock farming in Caquetá. Photo: Neil Palmer

Deforested landscape and extensive livestock farming in Caquetá. Photo: Neil Palmer

What is the problem?

Livestock farming in Caquetá with the prevailing model, based on monoculture of grasses, generates enormous pressures on the natural resources, but at the same time it is the means of support for some 14,000 families, with a livestock herd of approximately 1.5 million head, mainly in a dual-purpose system, which occupies the first place in the Amazon region and fifth place in the country. With this panorama, the vulnerability of the livestock production system is heightened by the presence of extreme climate events expressed as increased temperatures on the plains and precipitations in the piedmont, which results in low availability of food in critical seasons.

Recognizing this reality, from the Sustainable Amazonian Landscapes project, there has been a move toward the establishment of alternatives of sustainable intensification, among them the silvopastoral systems, which make it possible to improve economic-productive, environmental, and social indicators both at the farm level and at the landscape level. Nevertheless, in spite of the advantages, the rhythm of adoption is slow. The silvopastoral systems have barriers to their adoption, among which are technical barriers, related to the lack of trained personnel, both at a technical level and at a field operations level, to manage more complex systems; economic, related to the lack of capital to cover the costs of implementation and operation, the time it takes for the development of systems to generate a low initial return; and cultural, which include the resistance to change. In regions like the Amazon region, there are limitations of a macro order, such as the climatic conditions, public order, difficulties of access, and policies of marketing and assistance interventions that create disincentives for these systems.

For the purpose of overcoming the limitations in the adoption of silvopastoral systems, from the Sustainable Amazonian Landscapes, a strategy of co-design was promoted. This included an approach to the various alternatives, by means of a study tour of demonstration experiments in the zones of study, which are being accompanied by CIPAV in processes with other initiatives that are being advanced in the region by Patrimonio Natural; as well as the forage showcase implemented in the context of the SAL project in the Macagual Research center of UNIAMAZ.

Photo: Visit to forage showcase

Photo: Visit to forage showcase

In this way, the producers and participating technicians of the project unified criteria for making progress toward the prioritization of the type of system that can best be adjusted to the local reality of each farm, in order to later enter into the process of personalized co-design of each type of system, in a process that is developed in various stages, depending on the protocol proposed for each alternative.

What are we doing?

From CIPAV, as a partner of the SAL project, the main components of the proposal are agrosilvopastoral systems, where an attempt is made to do the simultaneous integration of the agricultural, forestry, and livestock components in a unit of area that is managed comprehensively, to improve the farm overall as a productive system, and thus improve the well-being of the family.

The basic principles that guide its development are based on the ecological intensification of the productive activity, which involves:

  • Integrating the local and the scientific knowledge.
  • Increasing and sustaining the livestock production as the main productive activity.
  • Including the generation of other products (diversification) for food security, production of lumber and firewood.
  • Making intensive use of the natural functions of the agroecosystem, for the generation of environmental services.
  • Allowing the release of areas for conservation or restoration, both degraded lands as well as forests and wetlands.
  • Strengthening human and animal food security.
  • Incorporating measures of adaptation and mitigation of climate change into the farm.

Ecological intensification is understood as the means to make intensive and intelligent use of the natural functions of the ecosystem (support, regulation) to produce foods, fiber, energy, and ecosystem services in a sustainable manner (Tittonell, 2014).

This proposal is being promoted in 13 farms of the municipalities of Albania and Belén de los Andaquíes. Five systems are included, three productive systems that cover 47 hectares: agrosilvopastoral systems in strips, management of the natural regeneration, and Mixed Forage Banks; as well as two systems in conservation: protection of natural ecosystems (20 hectares), and restoration of areas of ecological importance (13 hectares).

Agrosilvopastoral systems in strips. La Esperanza Farm, Albania, Caquetá. Photo: Neil Palmer

Agrosilvopastoral strips

Agrosilvopastoral strips on the Buenavista farm. Owner, Jaime Sterling, vereda Samaria, Albania, Caquetá. Photo: Neil Palmer

This system includes pastures improved with grasses and legumes that are managed in rotational grazing with electric fencing. The pastures are divided into strips of trees associated with crops for food security. The strips or alleys are protected with electric fence, the width is a minimum of 2.5 m. In this way, a space is generated to plant one or more lines of trees, which include from 15 to 20 species such as trees for lumber, Amazonian fruit trees, leguminous trees, and multipurpose trees, as well as species for food security and forage shrubs for cutting and hauling. In this system, one must guarantee the supply of water in the pastures, implementing livestock water pipes to restrict the entry of cattle into the wetland zones, and in this way avoid the contamination of the hydric sources traditionally used as natural sources of water for the cattle.

Management of natural regeneration
Manejo con podas del pomo Caqueteño (Bellucia pentamera) en la finca El Mirador. Propietario Campo Elías Jiménez, Puerto Londoño, Belén de los Andaquíes, Caquetá. Foto: Antonio Solarte

Management with pruning of Naudin (Bellucia pentamera) on the El Mirador farm. Owner, Campo Elías Jiménez, Puerto Londoño, Belén de los Andaquíes, Caquetá. Photo: Antonio Solarte

This practice is based on the cultural management of the natural regeneration of tree species in the pastures. The native tree species are found in the pastures in different stages of growth. For adequate interaction with the pasture, permanent activities of pruning and thinning, which favor adequate growth of the pastures and the establishment of shade for the cattle and other environmental benefits derived from the trees in a rapid and very low cost manner.

Mixed forage banks
Banco Mixto de forraje en la finca la Esperanza, propiedad de Melva Meneses, vereda Ospina Pérez, Albania, Caquetá. Foto: Neil Palmer

Mixed Forage Bank on the La Esperanza farm, property of Melva Meneses, vereda Ospina Pérez, Albania, Caquetá. Photo: Neil Palmer

This system includes an area of between 0.1 and 0.5 hectares, planted intensively with a high density of trees and forage shrubs (minimum 6 species) for the production of biomass of high protein quality to feed ruminant and monogastric species, energetic forage grasses (minimum 4 species), leguminous and multipurpose trees, and fruit trees distributed on the perimeter and within the area, as well as the inclusion of species for food security for the family. The species to be planted are determined according to the needs and preferences of the producer.

Protection of natural ecosystems

On each farm, the areas in forests or wetlands in good state of conservation have been identified and mapped. These areas were included in voluntary agreements of conservation of the family that guarantee its sustainability over time. This is a conservation strategy in which the producer receives the investment of the SAL project in the improvement of the productive system as a reward for the natural areas that have been conserved within the farm.

Ecological restoration of key areas
Recuperación del corredor ripario, con cerca eléctrica de protección y siembra de árboles, palmas y cultivos de seguridad alimentaria. Finca El Mirador, propiedad de Arnulfo Cabrera, vereda Ospina Pérez, Albania, Caquetá Foto: Catalina Zapata

Recovery of the riparian corridor, protected with an electric fence, and planting of trees, palm trees, and crops for food security. El Mirador farm, property of Arnulfo Cabrera, vereda Ospina Pérez, Albania, Caquetá Photo: Catalina Zapata

In the environmental planning of the farm and establishment of conservation agreements, the zones of wetlands and forests affected by the livestock farming activity are assigned to processes of passive and/or active restoration, with practices such as protection enclosures and planting of trees and palm trees.

What happens next?

The SAL project is continuing with technical assistance to the producers in order to take advantage of the agrosilvopastoral systems. In the following phase, comparative analysis of the productive, environmental, and social benefits of the systems implemented will be required, through indicators of production of forage biomass, soil quality, and family well-being based on the focus on livelihoods.

“Since the time that my father was alive, we have been trying to make this farm a demonstration farm. We have now improved an area of three hectares with an agrosilvopastoral system in the shape of a pie. Along with the technicians from CIPAV, we decided to take advantage of the establishment of strips to plant food and fruit trees. When we planted the pasture, we also planted maize. Although the maize did not grow very well, we used it for silage and to feed the cattle. With this project, we improved the food and the well-being of the animals, and we also achieved the protection of the forest and the recovery of a wetland”.

Edilson Ramirez

La Esperanza Farm, Albania Caquetá

This work has been carried out as part of the “Sustainable Amazonian Landscapes” project, which is financed by the International Climate Initiative (IKI). The project is led by CIAT’s Ecosystems Services team, with expert support from the Soils, Climate Change, and Forages teams, and implemented in conjunction with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), the Center for Research on Sustainable Agriculture (CIPAV), Amazon Institute of Scientific Research (SINCHI), University of the Amazon (UDLA), Institution for the Investigation of the Peruvian Amazon (IIAP), and the La Molina National University of Agriculture (VLIR-UNALM).

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